Graphic commons: make do and mend

Getting out and about in recent weeks has bought a renewed attention on my part to the graphic commons, and in particular, road markings.

I noticed a few ‘make do and mend’ type repairs to road markings over the last year on some of my constitutionals, but their prevalence has only really struck me recently. I assumed, wrongly, that these were simply bodged jobs by one or two contractors, but apparently not. They are everywhere, in Ipswich at least.

These occur where there have been road works and the contractors hired to dig up the road only repaint existing markings that they have destroyed as part of the repair they are employed to do. They do not stray outside of this remit.

This leaves a historical trace of alterations that have been made—a graphic commons equivalent of leaving heritage repairs on display in ancient monuments, acting as a visual record of conservation history. It could also be read as a visual metaphor for local authority town planning in neoliberal times, where contractors and sub-contractors are hired to do what council employees used to do on the back of offering the lowest price.

In some cases they create a fascinating reading of an environment, with the new fresh paint contrasting dramatically with the faded and worn. This is especially the case if the ‘road code’—the spray painted messages surveyors leave for construction workers—remains next to the repair.

One of the most ridiculous versions I have seen in recent months is the repainting of a bus stop marking outside my local Co-op, (see below). While I understand the rationale that a construction team contracted to repair the roads only have the jurisdiction to repair the specific piece of road they have been employed to work on, (I fully expect there is something written in their contract that forbids them from straying outside of this), but surely repainting the whole marking in such a case would be in everyone’s interest.

All this is a far cry from the artistry and love shown for the craft of roadlining in a video made by graphic design studio O Street. Roadliners is a homage to the skill and passion which some show in their work, and is a joy to watch.

Published by Nigel Ball

Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design

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